PREVIOUS STORIES, 15 September 2016

Faces of Sanitation Facilities

Nandita Singh and Om Prakash Singh

 

 

With 59% population - about 600 million - still not having access to toilets and practicing open defecation, sanitation is an urgent concern in India. For the remaining population that enjoys access, faces of the sanitation facilities are varied. While most generally, all sanitation facilities do provide privacy and hence safeguard human dignity, these do not always enable safe disposal of human waste or prevent direct contact with it, thereby defeating the basic health and hygiene goal of sanitation. Most broadly, sanitation facilities in India are either ‘household-based’ or ‘community-based’. At some places, household toilets are ‘dry’, not flushing into sewers or connected to sanitary pits, but are either open for animal scavenging or cleaned manually for removing the waste. The flush toilet connected to piped sewer system or septic tank is common particularly in urban households. These are also gaining popularity in rural areas. These may be the Indian style or of the western design, the latter being comparatively expensive, also using substantial quantities of water. A cheaper variant, usable in areas without piped water at home, is the ‘pour-flush’ toilet which works with smaller quantities of water and empty into single or twin-pits. The pour-flush toilets have been widely supported partly or fully under governmental and non-governmental sanitation schemes. Community or ‘public’ toilets are available in 42% urban wards and over 13% villages, being common where household toilets are not available. Sometimes at public places or at large public gatherings too community toilets are provided by agencies. In a bid to lower the open defecation figures and to enable the country’s progress towards the goal of safe sanitation, as many as 8.9 million household toilets have been constructed in rural India under the Swatchh Bharat Abhiyan in 2014-2015 alone. However, the issue is not only that of numbers, a more crucial question is that of sustainable adoption and use of the sanitation facilities, which further hinges upon the question of appropriate behavioral change. Sustained behavioral change, in turn, depends upon two basic factors – physical resource availability (water) and sociocultural (including gender) aspects. Also important is the question of safe disposal of the excreta, which is essential for closing the sanitation loop, ensuring health and hygiene. This photo story presents the varied faces of sanitation facilities in India, ranging across rural and urban settlements in different states. The title photo is of a community toilet near Haridwar Railway Station, Uttarakhand.

 

 

A ‘dry’ toilet in Zunheboto district, Nagaland

 

‘Dry’ toilets can be used in areas where water access presents difficulties, but open defecation is not preferred on socio-cultural grounds. These toilets may allow the human waste to drop down on the ground where animal scavengers may take care. At some places, dry toilets are cleaned through manual human scavenging. Whatever be the form, while allowing privacy to the user, these do not generally promote a healthy society and environment and can thus thwart enjoyment of the human right to health and development of the family as well as the community at large.

 

 

A ‘dry’ toilet in East Siang district, Arunachal Pradesh

 

 

An Indian design toilet with piped water and flush in a village in Bhojpur district, Bihar

 

In some households, toilets have become a welcome facility and people have adopted them sustainably. In many cases, particularly in households with better financial status, well-constructed toilets have been built at individual initiative. In some cases these are provided with tap and flush, while others may be of 'pour-and-flush' kind where water needs to be carried in a bucket for use.

 

 

A western design toilet with piped water and flush in a village in in Bhojpur district, Bihar

 

 

A pour-and flush toilet having a tap connection inside a permanent structure in Thane district, Maharashtra

 

 

A pour-and flush toilet without tap but inside a permanent structure in a peri-urban colony in Mumbai, Maharashtra

 

 

A semi-permanent household toilet structure with a makeshift door in a village in Chikkaballapur district, Karnataka

 

Many households have adopted pans provided under governmental or non-governmental schemes, later investing on their part to set up a structure around to enable privacy of use. However, sometimes toilet pans obtained through developmental interventions may exist for mere name sake, being neither connected to pits nor having any structure around.

 

 

A pour-and flush toilet without tap within a temporary structure in a village in Patna district, Bihar

 

 

A pour-and flush toilet in a temporary structure without water connection in a peri-urban settlement in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh. This structure is made of plastic and jute sacs and does not have a roof.

 

 

A toilet pan out in the open along the side of a stream in a peri-urban settlement in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh. When used, the human waste is discharged directly into the stream water.

 

Mere toilet access without adequate provision for safe excreta disposal is not enough. Unsafe excreta disposal can undermine environmental sanitation, in turn degrading water quality, thereby ultimately defeating the health and hygiene goals of sanitation. Also, if pit latrines are located in the vicinity, particularly upstream, of drinking water sources, contamination of groundwater with microbes and nitrates may become unavoidable.

 

 

A mobile toilet van being used as a permanent community toilet in South-East district, National Capital Territory of Delhi

 

Community toilets may be a necessity in peri-urban settlements primarily due to lack of space or financial resources. These toilets may be permanent structures or mobile in nature. In villages, community toilets are promoted where individual households cannot afford or else there exist space constraints. Sustained use of community toilets and a healthy environment in the settlement can be ensured only when such toilets are available in sufficient numbers, water is available, and cleaning and maintenance is organized on a regular basis. Otherwise, despite the physical availability of toilets, open defecation may continue unabated, or hygiene and environmental sanitation may remain at bay.

 

The mobile toilet van above is the only available sanitation facility for the residents nearby. It is good at providing privacy to the users but is neither connected to the sewer system nor is its storage tank cleaned on a regular basis. Instead the excreta is allowed to be released directly into an adjacent open drain, threatening environmental sanitation and hence health and hygiene of the residents in the entire area.

 

 

Temporary public toilets based on ‘pour and flush’ at Kumbh Mela in Haridwar, Uttarakhand. The excreta is discharged into temporary pits dug below the toilet pans.

 

 

Temporary community toilets made of PVC at Kumbh Mela in Nashik, Maharashtra

 

 

A community toilet and bath complex in Shirdi, Maharashtra near the holy shrine of Shri Sai Baba

 

Community toilets have also been developed as ‘public convenience complexes’ in many cities that provide services on ‘pay-and-use’ basis. This enables their regular cleaning, maintenance and hence their sustainability. The complex at Shirdi is the world’s biggest toilet and bath complex managed by Sulabh International Social Service Organization. This ‘pay and use’ facility is spread over an area of two acres and consists of 120 WC’s, 108 bathing cubicles, 28 special toilets, six dressing rooms, and also urinals and 5000 safety lockers for the tourists. The complex generates its own electricity through three biogas plants based on the excreta collected which is used for lighting and heating of water. The wastewater discharged is further reused for raising a garden within the complex. The complex can be used by approximately 30,000 users everyday.

 

 

Sanitation has been recognized as a human right which entitles everyone, without discrimination, to have ‘physical and affordable access to sanitation, in all spheres of life, that is safe, hygienic, secure, socially and culturally acceptable and that provides privacy and ensures dignity.’ However, mere provision of sanitation facilities is not enough to realize the right. Sustained adoption of toilets is as essential as is closing of the sanitation loop through safe excreta disposal. There is also the need to recognize the close inter-connection between water and sanitation. For reaching the safe sanitation goals and enabling enjoyment of the human rights to sanitation, water, health, education, livelihood, and above all development, there is need to adopt an integrated approach that promotes behavioral change by combining the water and sanitation components, together with socio-cultural and gender dimensions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Photo by: Om Prakash Singh
Photo by: Om Prakash Singh
Photo by: Om Prakash Singh
Photo by: Om Prakash Singh
Photo by: Om Prakash Singh
Photo by: Om Prakash Singh
Photo by: Om Prakash Singh
Photo by: Om Prakash Singh
Photo by: Om Prakash Singh
Photo by: Om Prakash Singh
Photo by: Om Prakash Singh
Photo by: Om Prakash Singh
Photo by: Om Prakash Singh
Photo by: Om Prakash Singh
Photo by: Om Prakash Singh